The analysis of senses in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Though legally abolished in 1807, slavery was not entirely stopped until the Civil War; black people were tormented, forced to give up their languages, names and religions, that is, their own identities. “Throughout the history of the New World, African American women were among the most oppressed, because they suffered the double jeopardy of being black and female, experiencing racism and sexism at the same time.” (Gutmann 1)
Set during the Reconstruction era in 1873, Beloved presents the period of slavery and its aftermath, describing the fate of some former slaves to whom their past represent a burden they desperately try to forget. Sethe, the protagonist, is a young woman who freed herself, but whose life remains haunted by the shadows of the past, symbolized by the spirit and flesh of her deceased daughter, Beloved, whom she murdered eighteen years earlier, “in an attempt to spare her the experience of her own sufferings” (Gutmann 4).
After almost twenty years of isolation and quietude, Paul D, a former slave, friend of Sethe’s back at Sweet Home, appears at 124, troubling the already “lonely and rebuked” (Morrison 16) Denver – Sethe’s second daughter – who resents him from the start. However, the woman seems to enjoy his company, as she had never got enough attention and consideration neither from her mother, nor from her husband Halle. This man with blessed eyes makes her “experience the sensation of a man’s loving gaze on her”(Gutmann 37). She shows him the “tree” of scars on her back, and feels relieved that “there was no mockery coming from his gaze […] Not since Halle had a man looked at her that way” (Morrison 30). Moreover, she is surprised by “how much her eyes enjoyed looking in his face” (Morrison 56).
Denver sees their growing love as a threat; living all her eighteen years in the confinement of the house, the yard and the tree house, she could not develop an identity of her own, and therefore she is totally dependent on her mother, on an unhindered visual contact with her. When Paul D moves in with them and starts to demand a great deal of Sethe’s attention, the woman behaves “like a girl instead of the quiet, queenly woman Denver knew all her life”(Morrison 14) and even starts “looking away from her own daughter’s body” (Morrison 14).
Paul D’s presence brings back memories that have lain buried in Sethe’s mind for almost two decades, in a succession on flashbacks that reconstruct the story of their lives. Denver hates the memories, too - except for the story of the white woman helping Sethe to give her birth – as they “belonged to them and not to her” (Morrison 15). Even “her own father’s absence was not hers”, as “only those who knew him well could claim his absence for themselves” (Morrison 15).